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With all the hype about detoxes and cleanses today, it can be overwhelming to know how to detox the right way. In this series of blogs, Ayurveda, the 5000 year old “science of life and longevity,” will give us some answers. Ayurvedic detox shows us how to minimize the toxins that come into our lives and maximize the toxins that go out.
Spring and fall are especially important times of the year to detoxify the body-mind. A spring detox can serve as an antidote for the inactivity and holiday indulgences that may have accompanied the long winter months.
Why Ayurvedic Detox?
Ayurveda considers the buildup of toxins, physical and mental and environmental, to be the underlying cause of many diseases. Toxins can enter our world by what we eat, drink, breathe in and process in any way.
Physical toxins (junk food, for example) build up ama, the sticky waste-product of digestion, throughout the body. Ama builds up whenever the digestive system is either too weak or too overloaded with the wrong foods. Ama in the digestive tract leads to poor absorption of nutrients and GI tract disease. If ama is not cleared from the body and continues to build up, ama’s toxic goo can leave the digestive tract and start circulating throughout the body.
Examples of ama accumulation outside the digestive tract include the build up of fatty deposits (plaque) in the arteries of the body. These deposits create blockages that can impede blood flow to the heart and brain, contributing to heart attacks and stroke. Ama on the teeth (dental plaque) can be a cause for gum disease and tooth loss.
Signs that physical toxins have built up in the body include a heavy white coating (ama) on the tongue, decreased energy, foul body, breath and stool odor, indigestion and excessive gas, body aches, foggy thinking and sleepiness after eating.
Ayurvedic detox shows us how to minimize the toxins that come into our lives and maximize the toxins that go out.
Mental toxins can come from many sources, from a toxic relationship at home to stress at work to toxic media overstimulation (“If it bleeds, it leads” newscasting). Signs of mental toxins include anger, worry and depression.
In Ayurveda, mental toxins are not managed with prescription drugs. No Xanax. No Zoloft. Instead, Ayurveda uses the tools of meditation, pranayama (breath-work) and pratyahara (management of the sensory input) to cleanse the mind of mental toxins.
Pratyahara, that all-important fifth limb of yoga, refers to all of the things taken in by the five senses. Examples of good pratyahara, good mental nutrition, include spending more time in the beauty of nature, in the forest or by the sea, and less time in front of the TV. Good pratyahara also means being around people who are loving and supportive, the opposite of toxic.
Environmental toxins come from outside the body and include foods tainted with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, as well as many additives and preservatives. Other toxins in the environment come from polluted air (carbon monoxide), polluted water (lead, mercury, etc.) and household cleaning supplies.
Ayurvedic Detox: The Natural Way to Cleanse
Recognizing the value of regular cleansing and rejuvenation, Ayurveda has given us many ways to detox, from Ayurvedic herbs taken by mouth to therapeutic massage with herb-infused oils tomeditation and yoga. Perhaps the easiest way to start detoxifying is a simple and natural organic vegetarian diet that contains all six tastes of Ayurveda, sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent, something critically important to maintaining the health of the bodily tissues, the dhatus (see previous blog: “The Six Tastes of Ayurveda“). Now let’s take a closer look at some of Ayurveda’s other detox methods. Ayurvedic detox is the holistic way to keep the body-mind healthy, energized and balanced. In this series of blogs, I offer you the most effective Ayurvedic tips I know for reducing the toxins in your every day life.
Ayurvedic Herbs: Easy and Natural
Ayurveda recommends the use of specific herbs that can cleanse the organs and rejuvenate the tissues. Some of the most important Ayurvedic herbs are triphala, ashwagandha, guggulu, ginger, tumeric and neem. These herbs help by enhancing our bodies’ own ability to detoxify. They have also been shown to contain helpful natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, as well as several anti-cancer chemicals. At the energetic level, they help balance our doshas (body-mind types) as well.
The appropriate doses of certain herbs may vary, depending on a person’s constitution and other issues. However, most people can benefit from the following three detoxifying herbs — triphala, tumeric and ginger. Check with your health care provider or practitioner for specific recommendations based on your body type, your medical conditions and other medications you may be taking.
Triphala: A 3-in-1 Ayurvedic Cleanse
Triphala (the “three fruits”) is used in Ayurveda as a detoxifier, rejuvenative, and mild laxative. According to a recent article published in the Nutrition Journal, Triphala is one of the most antioxidant-rich compounds in nature, containing a significantly higher antioxidant content than most foods and single herbs. It is a combination of three key Ayurvedic herbs — Haritaki, Amalaki and Bibhitaki — excellent for rejuvenation and GI tract health.
Tumeric is one of nature’s best and most widely used anti-inflammatories. It is available as a powder for use in cooking and in capsule form. The recommended dose is 500-1000 mg/day.
Ginger has a strong cleansing effect on the body, mobilizing toxins and restoring balance. It benefits the digestive system and helps reduce cravings for sweet and salty foods. Prepare ginger tea by adding one teaspoon of grated or sliced fresh ginger root to a cup of hot water. Fill your thermos bottle so that you can sip ginger tea throughout the day.
In our next two blogs we will explore other forms of detox used in Ayurveda, from tongue scraping and sweating (svedana) to meditation and panchakarma, the ultimate Ayurvedic detox.
If you’re interested in learning more about the traditional Ayurvedic cleanse, Panchakarma, check out our guide to Panchakarma.